Rural broadband initiatives in the Netherlands as a training ground for neo-
and Dirk Strijker
University of Groningen, The Netherlands
Rural broadband is assumed to be a solution to a variety of rural issues, yet the delivery of
broadband to rural areas remains problematic. On the basis of a database of 75 rural broadband
initiatives in the Netherlands and the information gathered by studying two initiatives in-depth
for a number of years, the authors discuss how citizens instigate and run initiatives to improve
internet connectivity. The authors present an 8-stage model that demonstrates that citizens,
governments and market players have impact on the completion of each of these stages,
highlighting the neo-endogenous character of rural broadband. In this neo-endogenous context
both established market players and governments find it difficult to relinquish their usual
approaches. Market players attempt to frustrate initiatives with rigid policies in order to prevent
their share of the market being threatened. On paper governments stress the importance of local
action, but in practice they come up with wavering or generic policies, neglecting local
organizational differences and frustrating the progress. The broadband initiatives are in a constant
learning curve and require perseverance as well as social, intellectual and financial capital. The
current conditions under which the local initiatives operate endanger the realization of broadband
in rural areas in the Netherlands.
Rural broadband, Next Generation Access, Rural penalty, Local initiatives, Neo-endogenous
Since the emergence of the internet in the 1990s, rural areas in advanced economies have been
disadvantaged with respect to the development of their digital connections. The telecom market
does not consider these areas to be sufficiently lucrative, as the number of potential users is low
and the costs are high (Cambini & Jiang, 2009; Townsend et al., 2013). In most Western
countries, national and regional governments are unable – due to for example (EU) regulation –
or unwilling – because of political and thus financial priorities – to provide rural citizens with
Corresponding author: Koen Salemink, Cultural Geography Department, Faculty of Spatial
Sciences, University of Groningen, PO Box 800, 9700 AV Groningen, The Netherlands.
high-speed internet. This is also the case in the Netherlands and has impacted a number of rural
sectors and stakeholders (Salemink & Strijker, 2015).
Recently, many local initiative groups came into being to create local solutions for this
disadvantageous situation; in our case in the Netherlands, but for example the UK also has seen a
rise in the number of initiatives (Ashmore et al., 2015). In these initiatives citizens, farmers,
entrepreneurs, in collaboration with other local stakeholders, try to install fixed broadband
networks or wireless solutions. Against the laws of the market, these initiatives try to realize a
fast and reliable broadband connection – or Next Generation Access – for their community. There
is some variation when it comes to speed and capacity, but a previous study has shown that most
of them aim for an easily upscalable network – regarding both speed and number of users – of at
least 30 Mbps and up to 100 Mbps (Salemink & Strijker, 2015).
The emergence of these broadband initiatives has resulted in a complex interplay between market
players, governments on various levels, and local communities. This article discusses the
emergence of these initiatives and their importance for the Dutch countryside and rural
development. It consists of an analysis of 75 initiatives
spread across the Netherlands and a
detailed multiannual analysis of two specific cases in the East Groningen region and the
Northeast Drenthe region. On the basis of these data, the article shows which factors play a role
in the success or failure of this type of initiative. Describing eight stages of rural broadband
initiatives (see also Salemink et al., 2015a; Salemink & Strijker, 2015) allows us to clearly
demonstrate that established market players and governments find it difficult to respond
appropriately to this new approach to realizing broadband connections. The article concludes
with a reflection on the role of the market and the various governments. These kinds of citizen
initiatives are not exclusive to the issue of broadband. Other examples include initiatives for
community care (Bokhorst, 2015), community transport (Ward et al., 2013), community shops
(Calderwood & Davies, 2013), renewable energy (Callaghan & Williams, 2014). This paper
shows, however, that broadband turns out to be a striking example of community action for rural
development, and the community learning that comes with it.
From digital divide to rural penalty
Rural communities have experienced great difficulties in keeping up with digital developments
(Malecki, 2003). To this day they find themselves on the wrong side of what is known as the
‘digital divide’ (Townsend et al., 2015). These difficulties are comparable to earlier
developments in the twentieth century, when it proved to be difficult to equip the most isolated
households with utilities such as water, electricity and telephone (Salemink et al., 2015b). The
upgrading – or substitution – of the telephone network to internet technology has remained
costly, if not altogether unprofitable, in rural areas (Cambini & Jiang, 2009). The
At the start of the analysis in April 2015, the database consisted of 75 initiatives. In September 2015 the database
consisted of 86 initiatives, covering 133 municipalities in all 12 provinces
telecommunication market was liberalized in the 1990s, at which time the market players
(privatized state or municipal companies such as KPN and Ziggo in the Netherlands) became
responsible for ensuring a suitable connection.
There are a number of technologies on the market for providing internet connections, such as the
telephone (ADSL or VDSL), but also ‘Next Generation Access’ (NGA) using coaxial cable,
fibre-optic or mobile internet. The Dutch countryside generally does not have access to these
NGA networks. Most rural addresses do have access to a basic form of internet through a
telephone line, even in the most remote places, but the available minimum speed then is
approximately 2Mb/Sec (Stratix, 2015; www.breedbandatlas.nl). This means that many digital
services cannot be used, such as cloud services, videoconferencing, distant learning applications,
and eGovernment services (Townsend et al., 2015). Due to low address density – and thus
insufficient numbers of customers – and long digging distances, rural areas are not an attractive
area of investment for telecommunications companies. They prefer to invest in urban areas with a
high address density and a high market potential (Townsend et al., 2013). As many other
governments in Europe, the Dutch government does not regard high-speed internet access as a
utility. However, it is convinced of the necessity of proper internet access in rural areas (Letter to
the Dutch Parliament DGETM-TM/15027850, 2015) .
The Dutch government has not yet found an instrument to resolve the market deficit.
Furthermore, European regulations on the distribution of state funds have in the past prevented
financial support from being directed towards establishing new networks (Cambini & Jiang,
2009). The European Commission recently adjusted its regulations in this respect. In the ‘white
areas’ – areas with no more than one provider of basic broadband and no providers of Next
Generation Access – authorities are allowed to offer financial support to improve internet
connections (European Commission, 2013).
In the Netherlands these ‘white areas’ mainly comprise rural areas, i.e. countryside areas outside
the curtilage of villages, and business parks on the edge of towns (Stratix, 2015). The exact
number of affected addresses is unknown, but two recent estimations indicate that between
200,000 and 220,000 addresses, that is to say half a million inhabitants, and 60,000 companies
have no access to future-proof internet – i.e. easily upscalable high-speed networks – all of which
are located in rural areas (Salemink, 2014; Stratix 2015). Malecki (2003, p. 201) places this
lacuna in the broader context of poor access to key services in rural areas as compared to urban
areas – both online and offline (healthcare, education, public transport) – also known as the ‘rural
Market failure as a driver for local initiatives
Various actors in rural areas suffer daily from limitations on their internet capacity. Companies
have trouble conducting their business, farmers are unable to operate their digitally controlled
machines, those in need are unable to receive the newest digital forms of care, and young family
members experience problems in digital learning environments (Farrington et al., 2015;
Townsend et al., 2015). As a result, the quality of internet connections is increasingly becoming a
decisive location factor, particularly in those rural areas that are under pressure from ageing and a
shrinking population (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, 2013). LaRose et al.
(2011) state that, in fact, the problem of service decline and remoteness in general could for a
large part be solved by improved digital connectivity, yet so far the quality of digital connectivity
only highlights the remoteness of rural areas.
Irritation, but also hope for a better future with a quick and reliable internet connection, has
driven active citizens and entrepreneurs to create their own initiatives and establish a Next
Generation Access network. They no longer trust that the market will provide an affordable
solution in due course. Often their ideal is a fully open network accessible to all service providers
and owned by a local cooperative (Salemink & Bosworth, 2014). They wish to manage the
network themselves and no longer be dependent on external telecom companies for potential
solutions, ensuring a future-proof network which can promote community resilience (Ashmore et
Such local actions in response to the market deficit are reshaping the relationship between
external and local stakeholders in rural areas. This is also known as neo-endogenous rural
development (Shucksmith, 2010; Bosworth et al., 2015). For decades regional and rural
development was primarily driven by external parties, such as national governments that
decentralized national services to peripheral areas. Since the emergence of more neoliberal policy
agendas in the 1990s, exogenous actors have been less active in stimulating this process. As a
result, rural areas and communities have had to increasingly rely on their ‘endogenous resources’
(Terluin, 2003; Dargan & Shucksmith, 2008). However, in the case of broadband, rural
communities cannot manage with endogenous resources alone. Social, intellectual and financial
capital are required (Bourdieu, 1986) to create a broadband network, for instance to establish and
maintain contacts with external parties such as governments, market parties, IT consultants,
financial institutions, property owners. Furthermore, every separate negotiation with one of these
contacts requires sector-specific knowledge and competencies, highlighting the multifaceted and
complex nature of rural broadband. Crucial in this is that these forms of capital are not available
in equal measure in all rural areas (see also The Netherlands Institute for Social Research, 2015).
Other essential factors for starting and running initiatives, such as social entrepreneurship
(Wallace et al., 2016) and, most importantly, perseverance (Salemink and Strijker, 2015), are also
unequally divided over space. This begs the question as to what will be the spatial impact of the
current approach of the Dutch government.
As from 2011 the authors have engaged in two projects regarding rural broadband provision.
Both projects have been carried out for the Province of Groningen in the Northern Netherlands.
The first project ‘Breedband op het platteland’ [Broadband in rural areas] (2011-2013) involved
an explorative study of the institutional and technological landscape of rural broadband. The
second project ‘Next Generation Access voor heel Groningen’ [Next Generation Access for the
entire province of Groningen] (2014-2015) was a study of the progress of rural broadband
initiatives. Both studies included international and national examples, but the implications of the
findings were focused on the Province of Groningen. During these research projects the authors
got in contact with many rural broadband stakeholders, such as policy makers and rural
broadband initiatives. These contacts resulted in a first version of our database of initiatives and
gave a first impression that rural broadband initiatives were a phenomenon of growing
importance (Salemink & Strijker, 2015).
Building on these first results and using an online inventory and online call
traced 75 broadband initiatives that were active in Dutch rural areas (as per April 2015). These 75
initiatives are spread across all 12 provinces and cover 116 municipalities, primarily outside the
Randstad area. The amount of information varies per initiative, but because we gathered
information on every characteristic in Table 1 for all 75 initiatives, it is sufficient to provide a
general picture of the Dutch broadband landscape. We documented and described broadband
initiative groups on the basis of the following points:
[INSERT TABLE 1 HERE]
In addition to the above-mentioned database, we also followed the development of the Stichting
Oldambt Verbindt (Oldambt Connects Foundation) in the province of Groningen in the period
from January 2012 until April 2015
and ECO Oostermoer (Oostermoer refers to the historical
region) in the province of Drenthe from February 2013 until April 2015. During this period we
interviewed the people involved and observed during meetings. On the basis of these interviews
and observations we were able to describe in more detail the stages a broadband initiative follows
and what exogenous and endogenous powers play a role in this context.
Rural broadband initiatives in the Netherlands: A diverse landscape
We were able to extract a general process for rural broadband. This process is discussed in the
next section, but first we discuss the elements of variety we found in the database. The first
important point of variation between the initiatives is the scope of their area of operation. Some
initiatives encompass a number of municipalities, while others only cover a few dozen addresses.
The origin of the initiatives and the key persons involved also vary greatly, from rural
entrepreneurs to active highly educated ‘newcomers’. The key persons form the basis of the
further network created by a given group. The group often seeks support from local governments,
but also from major market players, or farmers’ organisations.
See also: www.oldambtverbindt.nl
An important difference we found in our database is the blend of bottom-up and top-down
initiatives. Some cases clearly have come from a bottom-up or a grass-root movement, whereas
other cases are initiated by top-down forces such as local governments or regional cable
companies. The two in-depth cases in this paper are exemplary. ECO Oostermoer is a local action
group, run by citizens, aiming for locally sourced renewable energy and fibre-optic broadband.
Stichting Oldambt Verbindt, on the other hand, originates from top-down forces such as
municipally-initiated meetings, and their board consists of mainly representatives of local and
Key persons generally determine the flavour of the initiative. The broader the representation of
various stakeholders in the group, the broader the campaign’s argument that broadband will
benefit the social and economic development of the entire area. Initiative groups that are led by
farmers and other entrepreneurs focus primarily on economic arguments. There are also
differences in the choice of technology and the nature of the network. Technically speaking,
fibre-optic connections are superior to other technologies such as cable or 4G connections
(Stratix, 2015). However, some initiatives seem to be satisfied with any level of improvement,
even if it does not involve optical fibres. This results in a patchwork of different approaches.
Furthermore, even when initiatives chose the same technology, network designs can vary
considerably. This could prevent network integration in the future.
At the regional level some provinces try to structure this patchwork, but in doing that they run the
risk of disregarding local differences. The provinces of Friesland, Drenthe, Overijssel and North
Brabant currently have policies to support the initiatives. In order to structure and make the
developments of the initiatives manageable, provinces come up with standardized or generic
policies (see for example Province of Drenthe, 2015; Province of Overijssel, 2015). The fear of
local initiatives, in particular those in an advanced stage, is that the generic character of the
policies and centralized management will slow down the process, forcing the more advanced
initiatives to adapt to these new policy conditions (observations at ECO Oostermoer). The
initiative groups are also afraid of losing their ‘self-determination’ and becoming an instrument
of government policy (observations at Stichting Oldambt Verbindt). Furthermore, political parties
can integrate broadband in rural areas into political campaigns, which the major market players
can use to their own advantage.
The market and policy context vary greatly per initiative; any similarities are primarily to be
found in the impact of nationwide market players or province-wide policy. The complex and
reciprocal relation between government, market and citizen is specific to each area. External
parties such as established market players – in the case of the coaxial provider with global
shareholders – try to protect their financial interests by preventing citizens’ initiatives from
extending to their own area of operation. The Liberty Global owned coaxial provider Ziggo, for
example, uses media campaigns to stress the quality of their network in a certain municipality. In
these media campaigns, however, they are not clear about the fact that they do not serve all
households and business in that municipality (see for example De Gelderlander, 9 January 2015).
The absence or lack of clarity regarding government policy and regulation on the national,
regional and local level leads to great uncertainties for the initiative groups (Salemink & Strijker,
2015). This fact notwithstanding, the Minister of Economic Affairs recently indicated in a letter
to the Dutch Parliament that the local initiatives are essential in realizing a broadband network in
remote areas (Letter to the Dutch Parliament DGETM-TM/15027850, 2015).
Cooperative process for broadband in rural areas
On the basis of the database and detailed insights from Stichting Oldambt Verbindt and ECO
Oostermoer we distinguish eight stages in the process of establishing a cooperative broadband
network in rural areas. This is not a blueprint; it may be that initiatives combine a number of
stages, or that they have to take some stages more than once if complications arise in a
. For each stage we describe the role of the established nationally operating
market players and the various levels of government. We also describe the implications these
roles have. This shows clearly how innovative interplay comes about, but also how innovative
(and in some cases traditional) opposition arises. For each stage we indicate how many initiatives
have completed it; the other initiatives have not yet completed this specific stage or a previous
one. This makes it clear which stages we can consider to be decisive in the overall process.
Stage 1: Incentive (73)
Initiatives usually start with the observation that the market for Next Generation Access does not
serve their area. In response, initiative will try to provide the under-served area with future-proof
broadband access, because “all kinds of stakeholders in the area need a fast and reliable internet
connection” (Board member during a meeting of Stichting Oldambt Verbindt).
If the initiative originates from bottom-up forces, it usually involves a small number of key
persons (see also Ashmore et al., 2015; Wallace et al., 2016). In areas with existing networks or
action groups, for example LEADER areas, initiative groups often either originate in or join these
existing networks. In order for an initiative to materialize, social capital and organizational skills
must be available in the area. In addition, we noticed that many pioneers in this field can be
found in the vicinity of Eindhoven and Enschede, two cities with technical universities whose
staff possess the relevant intellectual capital and live, at least in some cases, in the surrounding
accessible rural municipalities.
Stratix consultancy has published a report together with Rabobank, commissioned by the Ministry of Economic
Affairs, which also describes the process of broadband initiatives. However, Stratix Consultancy describes the
process and accompanying steps as a model that prescribes steps that should be followed in order to be successful.
Our 8-stage model, on the other hand, is based on an analysis of empirical findings and is composed through
In the case of top-down initiatives, the process is at first facilitated by the local or regional
government or a local or regional cable company. In sparsely populated areas with little social,
intellectual or financial capital, these governments are more likely to act as the driving force
because it is less likely that citizens’ initiatives will originate in these areas.
Stage 2: Familiarization (52)
Rural broadband is technically and financially complex and this can be discouraging to some
initiatives. Familiarization is the first clear distinguishing step between the potentially successful
groups and those that are less likely to succeed. It is also at this stage that the decision is usually
made to aim for an open network owned by the community. Bottom-up initiatives tend to prefer
an open network managed by the community, as a reaction to the deficit created by the market.
At first some groups turn to established market players, who as a rule ‘reassure’ the key persons
and tell them that everything will turn out all right in the long term, without presenting them with
concrete alternatives (observations at Stichting Oldambt Verbindt and ECO Oostermoer). This
tactic may have the effect of ‘curbing’ the initiative. Some initiatives choose to rely on – or
collaborate with – the market player in question. This leads to the original ideal of an open
network being abandoned and the initiative relinquishing its self-determination, as established
market players will not accommodate community-managed networks (Salemink et al., 2015a).
Knowledge of the telecom sector can help accelerate this phase, but our observations at Stichting
Oldambt Verbindt and ECO Oostermoer show that the progress of an initiative group is as fast as
that of its slowest key persons. Quicker members run the risk of running ahead, which
undermines the cooperative spirit of the initiative. Such internal frictions can even lead to the
formation of new competing initiatives within the same area. Initiatives that are led by small
regional cable companies, for example in the Province of Friesland, Twente region, and the
municipalities of Veendam and Harderwijk, are at an advantage in this step. They have the
required technical expertise and they know how the broadband market works.
Stage 3: Inventory of demand (35)
In many cases this stage marks the official establishment of a cooperative or association. The
previous stages are mostly characterized by informal self-organization. An inventory of demand
requires an indicative business case for a preliminary area of operation, with estimated total costs
and recommended prices. This requires intellectual capital – a thorough understanding of the
matter – and financial capital, which are decisive factors that determine the likelihood of success
at this stage.
If there is enough demand, the groups usually decide to proceed. If demand is limited, some
groups decide to stop, while others start campaigning (Stage 4). Optimaas in Aalburg and
LanderdNet in Landerd, both located in the Province of North Brabant, are examples of
initiatives that were discontinued as a result of lack of demand. The subsequent decision of the
respective municipalities to no longer support the initiative – since there was no demand to justify
this support – led to a definitive end in both cases.
Stage 4: Campaigning (31)
Campaigns are usually launched to convince inhabitants and businesses located within the area of
operation to sign up for broadband. The more participants, the greater the chances of success.
Bottom-up initiatives make use of their local knowledge and network, but they need financial
support in order to professionalize their approach. This is the point at which many bottom-up
initiatives ask for support from the government (usually the municipality, in some cases the
province). Endogenous resources are often not enough to run a campaign. The initiatives can be
delayed by a failure or contretemps in securing funding, but also by a lack of concrete policy.
Initiatives in the Province of Drenthe – such as ECO Oostermoer – and in the Province of
Gelderland, where policy has by now been formulated, indicate that their projects were delayed
as a result of the slow progress of the provincial government.
Top-down initiatives, on the other hand, can launch professional campaigns because they have
the required resources and expertise. However, they run the risk of applying a ‘one size fits all
strategy’ which does not do justice to the local situation. Top-down initiatives more frequently
experience problems in organizing a network for accessing local expertise and conducting the
campaign. This is where external parties really need local stakeholders. Local social capital is
essential at this stage, especially for building trust (observations at ECO Oostermoer).
In the campaigning stage the established market players sometimes launch counter-campaigns of
their own. Competition from the initiatives, in some cases with competing technologies, reflects
on their product, even if they do not serve the initiative’s area of operation. In order to protect
their market position and shareholder value, they slash prices in surrounding areas of operation,
such as the larger villages, to create the impression that they are solving the problem and
ultimately hinder the bundling of demand (observations at ECO Oostermoer).
Stage 5: Bundling demand (15)
Once the campaign has been conducted, the demand in the area should be bundled. The objective
of this step is to have as many inhabitants as possible commit to subscribe to and pay for services,
subject to sufficient demand. The analyses of the database shows that this requires a commitment
from over 50% of the addresses. Areas with long digging distances, and therefore higher costs per
user, often require a higher percentage in order to create a profitable business case.
The bundling of demand may also reveal how much money the initiative still needs in order to
create a feasible business case. Some provinces, such as Friesland, Overijssel, Drenthe, and
Gelderland, are prepared to make the initiative’s business case profitable by granting a soft loan,
but only once the maximum amount of money has been obtained from the market (as many
participants as possible, and maximum feasible contribution per user). Due to European
legislation on state funding, only activities in the ‘white areas’ can be granted financial support
(European Commission, 2013). The initiatives that have reached this stage are not always
successful in bundling demand. Bergen Breedband, Breedband Alkmaar-Buiten, and SallandGlas
for example, have had to prolong their deadline for subscription. The initiatives that experience
this state in the media that this is a delay and it does not mean the initiative will be cancelled. The
75 cases in the database show that substantial social capital is required at this stage to start
bundling demand. Trust proves to be very important at this stage of rural broadband initiatives.
Observations at Stichting Oldambt Verbindt and ECO Oostermoer also show that intellectual
capital – understanding why broadband is important – and financial capital – being able to afford
the high fees – are important in the decision making.
Stage 6: Tender and Contracting (12)
We have less information on this stage and stage 7 and 8, because only 15 of the 75 initiatives
have completed the bundling of demand step, while 16 others are still trying to complete stage 5.
Furthermore, information on this stage is often confidential, since contractors and providers do
not want to reveal their competitive edge. During the tender and contracting it is important that
the initiative is able to impose requirements on the network, for example an open network – if
that is still an aim – and full coverage of the area of operation. A full coverage network does
require solidarity from the households and companies that are less remote. Potentially, they
would be able to gain access to broadband for a lower price if the more remote addresses did not
take part. Most broadband initiatives want to connect all addresses, which requires them to appeal
to community solidarity.
The contracting process can also be time-consuming, and therefore initiatives do not advance to
stage 7 quickly and without problems. Legal and financial issues are usually the cause of the
struggles at this stage. Often these issues prove to be too complex for the initiatives, showing the
need for professional support.
Stage 7: Construction and commissioning (4)
Local involvement, knowledge and support are important in the construction stage. Some groups
of inhabitants or companies opt to do some of the digging work themselves in order to keep the
costs down (for UK examples of this see Ashmore et al., 2015). In addition, it may be necessary
for these routes to be dug through privately-owned plots. In this phase, the role of being a
commissioning party and managing the everyday issues of construction require the initiative to
possess another set of relevant skills, knowledge, and experience. Stage 7 therefore shows that
with the development of the initiative, the capacities of the key persons also have to develop. In
the case of ECO Oostermoer the key persons try to anticipate this by recruiting volunteers that
have these capacities.
Stage 8: Management and maintenance (4 networks currently operational)
At this stage, the initiatives require technical support to manage the network. Outsourcing of the
management and maintenance is usually considered at this stage. In their role as commissioning
party, the initiatives set requirements on network management. Once this stage is reached the
process is completed. There are examples of initiatives that decide after all to turn to established
market players. The Province of Drenthe even states in its funding and implementation policy
that initiatives should at the start determine an ‘exit strategy’ to sell the network to market players
(Province of Drenthe, 2015). This once again requires technical expertise in the negotiations
Two of the four operational networks that are included in our database are fibre-optic networks,
while the other two are wireless. BoekelNet was the first bottom-up operational fibre-optic
network of the Netherlands to be owned by a cooperative. The municipality’s role as facilitator
and source of financial support played a key role in the realization of this project.
The diverse landscape of rural broadband in the Netherlands is presented in Map 1. This map
shows the 75 initiatives that were analysed and the stage they were in at the moment of analysis.
The initiatives are predominantly based in areas outside the Randstad area (metropolitan region
in the West) in the North, East, and Southeast of the country.
[INSERT MAP 1 HERE]
Discussion and Conclusion
Opportunities and challenges for cooperative interplay
The emergence of a large number of initiatives shows the necessity of broadband connections in
rural areas, but it does not in any way guarantee that these areas will eventually be successfully
connected to a future-proof network. The outcomes of the process for rural broadband seem
uncertain. We discovered that the inventory and bundling of demand in particular are decisive
stages in which many initiatives struggle to move forward. During these stages the bottom-up
initiatives especially are dependent on the support – or non-opposition at the least – of
governments and market players. The case of ECO Oostermoer, for example, shows that
negotiations with the province about the terms and conditions for funding require a lot of time
and effort of the initiative. The market players, on the other hand, are usually only willing to
cooperate on the condition that they will later own the network (observations at Stichting
Oldambt Verbindt and ECO Oostermoer), while many initiatives are committed to creating an
open network that they own and manage themselves. These opposing interests of the initiative
and the telco often results in an internal conflict within the initiative about what should be
prioritized: self-determination and following the original plan, or settling for an altered plan with
the telco in which self-determination is lost but the network will be realized? Managing the
expectations of potential users proves to be both crucial and difficult at this stage. As long as
there is conflict within the initiative and there is no prospect of a cooperating market player, the
initiative will not succeed.
In addition, wavering policy on the part of local and regional governments, uncertainty about EU
requirements related to state-support, as well as an absence of national policy, results in
insecurity and requires much time and energy – an investment that not every initiative or group is
able to sustain. Although this is not a unique finding for rural broadband – Bosworth et al. (2015)
made similar observations regarding LEADER programs in the UK – the struggle to keep up with
policy changes resonated throughout the Dutch rural broadband landscape. Insights from
Stichting Oldambt Verbindt and ECO Oostermoer show that the capacity of an initiative can
come under pressure and the key persons can get ‘tired of policy’ (beleidsmoe). The overall
picture of rural broadband initiatives in the Netherlands begs a question about the degree of
skills, capabilities, and perseverance that is required. Not every rural area in the Netherlands
possesses that degree, hence the absence of rural broadband initiatives in some of the Dutch
‘white areas’. Furthermore, and more critically, our analysis indicates that the key persons in
rural broadband initiatives run the risk of ‘volunteer burnout’. Once that occurs, initiatives are at
a considerable risk of failing.
In both bottom-up and in top-down initiatives, governments and citizens need each other in order
to bring the initiative to completion. An initiative typically begins on a small scale, with a small
group of key persons, but often it soon becomes apparent that cooperation is required with
various stakeholders, both exogenous and endogenous, in order to actually realize the broadband
network. Local political conflicts and large-scale market interests can hinder progress. In some
more advanced initiatives, a cooperative as an organizational form – and thus the formalization of
collaboration between citizens, government, and institutions – has ensured that the cooperative
activities were in line with political decision-making, thus greatly accelerating the overall
process, in any case up to the stage of bundling demand.
This paper also shows that efforts to create a broadband network represent a modern form of rural
development. A single player is no longer sufficient; rather, the process requires a cooperative
interplay between highly educated and highly skilled citizens, governments and market players,
confirming the theory of neo-endogenous rural development. This interplay requires various
forms of capital and, above all, sector-specific skills which do not come natural to every citizen.
Endogenous and exogenous actors and capital have to contribute in order to create a rural
broadband network. This interplay is not unique to rural areas as a location or broadband
connections as a theme, but the example does show to what extent actors are able and willing to
cooperate. Furthermore, local and regional governments are forced by market players and
initiatives to reconsider the current situation in which the free market acts as an instrument for
providing every Dutch citizen with telecom services.
Rural broadband as a vehicle for neo-endogenous development: the reclaiming of rural futures
Many initiatives arise in response to a failing market or a reticent government. Once the first
steps in the process have been completed, it often appears that initiatives actually need the
cooperation – or non-opposition – of market players and governments in order to achieve their
objective. In the case of rural broadband initiatives, it is important for the local actors – citizens
and entrepreneurs in particular – to be able to take part on their own terms and, ultimately, to be
able to achieve their own objectives. The analysis in this paper shows that power inequalities and
a dependence on external parties – or exogenous forces – may hinder and delay this process. In
addition, reclaiming and maintaining self-determination appears to be important to local
stakeholders. Many campaigns for broadband in rural areas emphasize this reclaiming of self-
determination as a triumph that citizens can jointly achieve themselves, a triumph that proves that
the ‘rural penalty’ can be overcome. Behind this pursuit of broadband lies a deeper desire for a
liveable countryside, in which the citizen takes on an increasingly active role. In this light, the
initiatives for rural broadband can be seen as a vehicle for rural emancipation and neo-
endogenous development. Nevertheless, citizens organizing everything themselves seems to be a
utopia as far as broadband networks in rural areas are concerned.
The free market rationale forces one to do things well, but it does not necessarily force one to do
the right thing. Local groups increasingly define what is right for them, and work towards making
it happen. In order to do that, they have to be able to organize themselves and bundle demand.
They then have to be able to safeguard their own objectives and interests. It is up to the
government to support – or at least not hinder – this self-organization and to initiate it where it
does not come about naturally. In doing that, governments should not hinder the objectives of an
initiative; doing so would alienate the local citizens and entrepreneurs. This could prove to be
fatal, since under the current conditions broadband in remote rural areas does not seem to be
feasible without the commitment of local citizens and entrepreneurs.
The journey towards Next Generation Access is accompanied by ‘Next Generation Rural
development’ with a neo-endogenous character. The broadband initiatives act as a suitable
training ground and learning experience for broader rural issues. From an endogenous
perspective, delivering rural broadband requires a great variety of knowledge, skills, and
capacities throughout the process. Every stage has its specific requirements and as the initiative
develops, the key persons have to deal with this variety of changing requirements. The question
remains, however, if every rural area and community holds these key persons and the much
needed social, intellectual, and financial capital.
From an exogenous perspective, a similar learning experience applies to governments and market
players. Some of them are able to respond effectively to the local initiatives, by facilitating and
enabling the local action. Others, however, find it difficult to relinquish their usual approaches,
resulting in more conservative responses. The current policy conditions endanger the universal
realization of broadband in rural areas in the Netherlands by local initiatives. The key to
successful rural broadband initiatives lies in the cooperative interplay between the various
stakeholders. To contribute to the knowledge about this interplay, we therefore suggest that
research on rural broadband – and rural development more generally – focuses on the mutual
learning between endogenous and exogenous actors.
Conflict of interest
The authors declared no potential conflict of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
This research would not have been possible without the projects that were commissioned by the
Province of Groningen.
This is a more elaborated and sophisticated version of a paper which was published in the Dutch
peer-reviewed journal Bestuurskunde (Salemink and Strijker, 2015). The authors would like to
thank Sanne Kasten for her help in processing the data and creating the map. Also thanks to Gary
Bosworth (University of Lincoln) for his input on an earlier version of this paper.
Ashmore, F., Farrington, J., Skerratt, S. (2015). Superfast Broadband and Rural Community
Resilience: Examining the Rural Need for Speed. Scottish Geographical Journal, doi:
Bokhorst, M. (2015). De koers van zorgcoöperaties [The direction of care cooperatives].
Bestuurskunde, 24(2), 27-39
Bosworth, G., Annibal, I., Carroll, T., Price, L., Sellick, J., Shepherd, J. (2015). Empowering
Local Action through Neo-Endogenous Development; The Case of LEADER in England.
Sociologia Ruralis doi: 10.1111/soru.12089
Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory and
research for the sociology of education (pp. 241-258). New York: Greenwood.
Calderwood, E. & Davies, K. (2013). Localism and the community shop. Local Economy, 28(3),
Callaghan, G. & Williams, D. (2014). Teddy bears and tigers: How renewable energy can
revitalise local communities. Local Economy, 29(6-7), 657-674
Cambini, C. & Jiang, Y. (2009). Broadband investment and regulation: A literature review.
Telecommunications Policy, 33(10-11), 559-574.
Dargan, L. & Shucksmith, M. (2008). LEADER and innovation. Sociologia Ruralis, 48(3),
European Commission. (2013). Communication from the Commission. EU Guidelines for the
application of State aid rules in relation to the rapid deployment of broadband networks
(2013/C 25/01). Accessed through http:// eur -lex. europa. eu/ LexUriServ/ LexUriServ. do ?
uri= OJ: C: 2013: 025: 0001: 0026: EN: PDF
Farrington, J., Philip, L., Cottrill, C., Abbott, P., Blank, G., Dutton, W. (2015). Two-Speed
Britain: Rural Internet Use. Report published by dot.rural Digital Economy Hub, Aberdeen
and the Oxford Internet Institute. Accessed through http://www.dotrural.ac.uk/two-speed-
LaRose, R., Strover, S., Gregg, J.L. & Straubhaar, J. (2011). The impact of rural broadband
development: Lessons from a natural field experiment. Government Information Quarterly,
Letter to the Parliament by Minister Kamp, H.G.J. (2015). Snel internet in buitengebieden en 4G-
dekking (Fast internet in remote areas and 4G coverage) The Hague: Ministry of Economic
Affairs, Agriculture & Innovation, reference DGETM-TM/15027850
Malecki, E.J. (2003). Digital development in rural areas: potentials and pitfalls. Journal of
Rural Studies, 19(2), 201-214.
PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (2013). Vergrijzing en Ruimte: gevolgen
voor de woningmarkt, vrijetijdsbesteding, mobiliteit en regionale economie [Ageing and
Space: consequences for the housing market, leisure, mobility and regional economy].
Accessed through http://www. pbl.nl/sites/default/files/cms/publicaties/PBL_
Province of Drenthe (2015). Uitvoeringsregeling aanleg breedband Drenthe 2015
[Implementation policy for broadband in Drenthe 2015]. Accessed through
Province of Overijssel (2015). Wijziging subsidieregeling breedband infrastructuur [Change in
funding policy for broadband infrastructure]. Accessed through
Salemink, K. (2014). Factsheet ‘Breedband in de buitengebieden’. Groningen: RUG-FRW.
Salemink, K. & Bosworth, G. (2014). Investigating community-led broadband initiatives as a
model for neo-endogenous development. Paper presented at 12th Rural Entrepreneurship
Conference, Harper Adams University, UK.
Salemink, K. & Strijker, D. (2015). Breedbandcoöperaties op het platteland: Leerscholen voor
Next Generation Plattelandsontwikkeling. Bestuurskunde, 24(2), 40-50
Salemink, K., Strijker, D., Kasten, S. (2015a) Next Generation Access voor heel Groningen:
Toekomstperspectief voor breedband op het Groningse platteland. Urban and Regional
Studies Institute (no. 350), University of Groningen
Salemink, K., Strijker, D., Bosworth, G. (2015b). Rural development in the digital age: A
systematic literature review on unequal ICT availability, adoption, and use in rural areas.
Journal of Rural Studies, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jrurstud.2015.09.001
Shucksmith, M. (2010). Disintegrated rural development? Neo-endogenous rural development,
planning and place-shaping in diffused power contexts. Sociologia Ruralis, 50(1),
Stratix Consulting (2015) Onderzoek LTE-dekking in Nederland: Mogelijkheden voor gebieden
zonder snelle vaste internettoegang [Research on LTE coverage in the Netherlands:
Opportunities for areas without access to superfast internet]. Published by Stratix Consulting,
commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation
Terluin, I.J. (2003). Differences in economic development in rural regions of advanced
countries: An overview and critical analysis of theories. Journal of Rural Studies, 19(3),
The Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP). (2015) Dichtbij huis: Lokale binding en
inzet van dorpsbewoners [Close to home: local attachment and engagement of villagers].
Townsend, L., Sathiaseelan, A., Fairhurst, G., & Wallace, C. (2013). Enhanced broadband
access as a solution to the social and economic problems of the rural digital divide.
Local Economy, 28(6), 580-595.
Townsend, L., Wallace, C., Fairhurst, G. (2015). ‘Stuck out here’: The Critical Role of
Broadband for Remote Rural Places. Scottish Geographical Journal, doi:
Wallace, C., Vincent, K., Luguzan, C., Townsend, L., Beel, D. (2016). Information technology
and social cohesion: A tale of two villages. Journal of Rural Studies, doi:
Ward, M., Somerville, P., Bosworth, G. (2013). ‘Now without my car I don’t know what I’d do’:
The transportation needs of older people in rural Lincolnshire. Local Economy, 28(6), 553-
Table 1. Descriptive characteristics of rural broadband initiatives
Information on initiative
Area of operation
Target area, ambitions for scaling, the
governments and telecommunications
companies (telco’s) involved in that area
Key persons or organizations
Background of key persons and/or
organizations on the board
Network relations of the key persons
Relations of key persons to governments,
embeddedness in specific economic sectors,
experience in local government or volunteering
and community action
Arguments in the campaign
Style of campaign (targeted vs. generic), focus
on specific economic sectors (agriculture,
‘cottage industries’), statements from various
Status of the initiative
Stage of the 8-stage model the initiative is at as
per April 2015 and the development towards
Character of the network
‘Open network’ managed by the community or
a closed turn-key network managed by a telco,
technology used for the network (fibre-optics,
coaxial cable, wireless)
Stichting Glasvezel Achtkarspelen (bedrijventerrein)
Kabel Noord in Sybrandahûs
De Fjouwer Doarpen en Hidaard
Stichting Glasvezelnetwerk Langedijke
Stichting Glasvezelnetwerk Middelsee (bedrijventerrein)
Stichting Glasvezelnetwerk Snitserdyk
Project Breedband Noord-Groningen
Stichting Breedband Westerkwartier
Den Horn Online
Plaatselijk Belang Vledderveen
De Kop Breed
Werkgroep ZaandDörpen op Glas
Westerveld op Glas
Breedband de Wolden
Stichting IJsseldelta Glas Buitengebied (IJDGB)
Glasvezel in het buitengebied Rijssen-Holten
Breedband buitengebied Dalfsen
Initiatiefgroep Glasvezel SPOW
CAI Harderwijk/Stichting Breedband voor het Buitengebied
Buren op Glas
Initiatiefgroep Glasvezel Buitengebied Putten
Coöperatie Breedband Buitengebied Winterswijk
Breedband Buitengebied Aalten
Coöperatie Bergen Breedband
Coöperatie Hollands Kroon
Projectgroep Glasvezel (Zegveld en de Meije)
Optimaas Aalburg (gestopt)
LVCNET (Land van Cuijk)
Initiatiefgroep Glasvezel Buitengebied Asten-Someren
Bergen op Zoom
Glasvezel Buitengebied Nederweert
Glasvezel voor iedereen